Ottawa has expressed “deep concerns” over the Saudi kingdom’s apparent use of Canadian military equipment in its growing crackdown against its minority Shia citizens in the restive Eastern Province.
Canadian daily Globe and Mail reported Friday that Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland “is deeply concerned about this situation and has asked officials to review it immediately,” citing Global Affairs Canada, a government agency that manages the country’s diplomatic relations.
“If it is found that Canadian exports have been used to commit serious violations of human rights, the minister will take action,” the report added.
The statement was issued after the daily published a story earlier in the day on the apparent use of Canadian-made combat vehicles in Saudi Arabia’s predominantly Shia-populated Qatif region, which has been the scene of protests since 2011 against the regime’s repressive policies and human rights abuses against the Shia population.
In recent months, Qatif has seen a hike in tensions, with Saudi regime forces, equipped with artillery and heavy weapons, launching frequent attacks against the besieged town of Awamiyah to quell the protests under the pretext of clashing with “militants” there.
The protesters in Awamiyah are angry at a plan by the regime to destroy the al-Mosara neighborhood, the old quarter of the town, and turn it into a commercial zone in defiance of warnings both by locals and the United Nations.
Some seven people have been killed by the Saudi military in the town over the past days.
The government in Ottawa “is actively seeking more information about Saudi Arabia’s current efforts to deal with its security challenges, the reports of civilian casualties, and the reports that Canadian-made vehicles have been used by Saudi Arabia in its current security operations,” Global Affairs spokesman John Babcock said. “Canada will review all available information as it determines an appropriate course of action.”
“End use and end user of [military] exports, as well as regional stability and human rights, are essential considerations in the authorization of permits for the export of military goods from Canada,” he added.
According to the daily, video footage and photos have surfaced on social media showing for the first time that Saudi police forces using Canadian military hardware against Saudi civilians, prompting calls on Canada’s liberal administration to halt arms exports to the despotic regime.
The report further cited experts as identifying the equipment appearing in the videos and photos as Gurkha RPVs, manufactured by Terradyne Armored Vehicles in Newmarket, Ontario, near Toronto.
The statement by Freeland’s department, the report said, came a day after the Trudeau government released a rare statement, slamming the escalating crackdown on Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority in the al-Qatif region by the regime’s Wahhabi-dominated rulers.
“Canada is concerned by the escalating violence in eastern Saudi Arabia, which has resulted in civilian and security-force casualties. We recognize that Saudi Arabia faces security challenges, but we urge local authorities to work with all communities to defuse tensions. All such challenges must be addressed in a manner that abides by international human-rights law,” the Canadian government said as quoted in the report.
According to the daily, the Saudi’s use of the Canadian weaponry against its own population in the Eastern province has spurred controversy over whether the Trudeau administration is violating Canada’s arms export-control rules, “particularly with a $15-billion sale of weaponized armored vehicles to Riyadh for which the Liberals approved export permits in 2016.”
Canada’s export-control rules, the report adds, call for restrictions on arms exports to countries that have “poor human rights records” and a “record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Shipments are supposed to be blocked if there is a chance the buyer could use the arms against its own population.
Also reacting to the development was Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) lawmaker Charlie Angus, who joined the nation’s conservative politicians in demanding the cancellation of arms sales to the Saudis.
“The Canadian people were told this contract was strictly for peacekeeping and they are using them against civilian populations, so there is no reason that this contract should continue,” Angus said. “We should not be kissing up to the Saudi regime.”
“We are in major arms promotions with the Saudis who have destabilized so much of the Middle East. How can people take us seriously as an actor for any kind of reconciliation or peace building in that region when they are making deals like this?” he added. “They have a deplorable human-rights record but our Prime Minister seems to think they are good business partners.”
This is while Saudi officials have argued that the regime’s arms purchases from Canada should be seen as “a goodwill gesture” by the kingdom to cement its friendship with Canada, the daily emphasized.
Saudi Arabia is one of the largest arms importers in the world.
Besides its brutal crackdown at home, the regime has been leading a bloody military campaign against neighboring Yemen. It has also been assisting its ally Bahrain in its clampdown on the peaceful anti-regime protests there.
Prominent human rights groups have on numerous occasions called on Saudi Arabia’s major arms suppliers, including the US and the UK, to stop selling Riyadh military equipment.
Turning a deaf ear to such calls, new US President Donald Trump sealed a huge arms deal with the Saudi regime back in May worth $115 billion, in he hailed as a major success in creating more jobs for Americans.
The UK government has also licensed £3.5 billion worth of arms export to the Saudi kingdom since the onset of the war on Yemen in March 2015.
In March, Amnesty International condemned the US and UK for their “shameful” weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia, saying Washington and London were fueling the serious human rights violations and war crimes in Yemen committed by Riyadh.